But I have a lot to catch you all up on, and plenty of pictures to get to, so let's get to it!
I arrived into Paris Friday morning after the trying experience that was the night train. It was uncomfortable, smelled terrible, and took about 16 hours, adding up to an experience that if I ever repeat, it'll probably be too soon. Plus, I got charged 7 euro for a breakfast I didn't even ask for, I was just handed and after I turned it down, they said "take it" in Italian, so I did. And then they charged me. Ciao Italia, I suppose.
I got into Paris, and it was absolutely gigantic. It's so huge in comparison to Rome. The metro system there is a piece of art in and of itself, as it have 14 metro lines, along with 5 more RER train lines, and well over 100 stations, so the city is uber-connected and easy to navigate after a little learning curve. I had all of the bags, but managed to make it to my hostel pretty easily, or easily to the 120 stairs before it. It harkened from so far away, like it was taunting me. But I got up there, a sweaty mess indeed, yet I made it, showered, and got a Jambon et Fromage sandwich from this boulangerie pictured here and ate in a little park, enjoying the French air and taking my time, I was in no hurry after that train experience.
My hostel was in the Montmartre district, which is where the Moulin Rouge and the Sacre Coeur church is, and it's pretty much an adorable little neighborhood with absolutely indecipherable streets and complicated layering of buildings, apartments, and shops that couldn't have been anywhere else but Paris. It was weird being there, actually trying to speak French that I've studied for so long (but it's not easy after 4 months of total Italian, let me tell you), and seeing the city that had so long only existed in books and studies.
Kelly arrived that afternoon and we set off into the city and went to the Louvre straight away. It's home to some of the most famous and illustrious artists' works and it shows. It's beautiful as a building, and for all you Da Vinci Code fans, yes, this is the central art museum for the action. The Pyramid Inverse is here, along with the Venus de Milo, tons of fantastic paintings by David, and yes, the Mona Lisa.
We made our way to the ticket line, but as we arrived, as it was after 6 on a late-open night, they let all under-25 visitors in for free. No complaints from me! Woohoo, that's 11 Euro saved after a semester of spending.
Kelly had been here before, but I had not (obviously). It was huge, and you could easily spend days in there (many people do) but I didn't have days, I had hours, so I made it through it pretty quickly, but I feel like I saw everything I wanted to see; someday in the future with more time and resources, I'll stay longer, but for now, two hours got me through it to see the big ones. The Mona Lisa? Pretty cool to see, but as I'd heard before I went, it's really tiny. I mean, it's just little compared to some of these wall-encompassing paintings surrounding it, but I got a few pictures, including one with me in it. Cooooool.
Wandering the halls of the Louvre, it's hard not to take in just the sheer value of all of the works there. Billions worth, and all being cared for with state-of-the-art curation techniques and curators, it's pretty cool to think about the history and variety of art there. I certainly appreciated it.
The Venus de Milo is another instantly recognizable piece, and I spent my time taking it in, but again, there are so many impressive works there that it feels like even though it's iconic and amazing in its own right, when surrounded by so many other works, it feels a little underwhelming in a way as you're already so overwhelmed with the massive amounts of work, if that makes any sense. I hope it does. If it doesn't, I guess you'll just have to go and check it out for yourself.
We left the museum maze (the hardest exit to find ever, let me tell you) and got some fresh air, which was freezing but refreshing. Paris is much, much chillier than Rome, by like 10 degrees, and the wind is so bitter and ever-present that it feels like you're in a freezer, which is something I haven't felt in a long time, but feels like everyone back home is getting a bit of right now (and I'll be privy to tomorrow . . . whoa).
Once outside, I turned around and saw the amazing full moon of the evening rising over the Louvre and the other direction was the Seine, and it was just pretty impressive. Paris is a lovely city, but I just wish I had the people there to share it with. It was something that really held me back in this journey, and although having Kelly was good company, I missed the company of people who can experience it with me and share it over basic conversation, etc.
It was beautiful, though. Not a single doubt about it.
I took a bunch of pictures, some of which'll make it on here, but others will make it to Picasa at some point. I also got a video, which is always a nice aid, right? So feel free to take that in, and just imagine being really cold too and it's just like being there (sort of).
From there, it was off to the Eiffel Tower, which I probably would venture to say is safely in the 5 most recognizable monuments in the world. If I had to list them, I'd probably say Eiffel Tower, Statue of Liberty, The Great Pyramids, The Colosseum, and maybe the Great Wall or Big Ben. It's weird to think I saw two of the no-doubters of this same trip, but I digress.
The Eiffel Tower looks close since it's tall, but it involved crossing over the Seine (a beautiful thing to see in its own right at night), down past several museums and eventually into the neighborhood before coming up on it in all its glory. The approaching walk though was kind of fun since it just felt like around every corner you were going to see it in its entirety, but it took a few blocks before it was totally in view.
This picture of it here is a few blocks away and isn't the best of showing it, but I liked the effect of the blue on the night sky, so you get to see it too, even if it's not the full deal quite yet.
But eventually, you do come up on it, and it's pretty darn cool. I was near-frozen solid at this point, but that's not to say I didn't take it all in and try to get a few pictures with me and it together, but the night and the flash combo needed never seemed to work. Maybe Kelly's pictures will look better, but instead of posting crappy ones of me and it, I'm going to post better ones of just it, along with maybe a video for you to savor, too. Cool?
Yes, it does in fact have a European Union flag symbol on it, and yes, every hour on the hour, it does what it's doing above: flahsing like a ton of flashbulbs and looking even more impressive, which is cool to see in the night. Along with the full moon and all the lights of the city, it was pretty bright.
But cold. Don't forget cold. Because it was.
After this 20 minute check-out period, we headed back to the hostel and I crashed out pretty quickly after that, only to be woken up here and there by the stumbling in of my roommates, but eh, what are you going to do when you're paying what I was paying per night? Not a hotel, that's for sure.
I got up and had some breakfast the next morning (Saturday) and rolled out to see the Champs Elysees and the Arc de Triumph, but not before hitting up the Sacre Coeur, or the Sacred Heart Church in Montmartre in the highest point in all of Paris. We wandered over there and got there after an impossibly complex weave of streets after asking a local for directions, and we got there pretty quickly and got to the top, which provided some excellent views of the city and, oh yeah, one of the more impressive churches in all of Europe, not just Paris.
It looks a little like the Taj Mahal, if you squint, I think. It's probably the white coloration and turret look, but it was pretty cool, absolutely in prime location for views and for checking out the whole of Paris. I took a ton here that I really like, but I can only put so many up. Picasa soon? Absolutely.
It was windy. Give me a break.
We went inside where it's forbidden to take pictures, but I took one very slyly, but I didn't like it enough to put on here when compared to some more of the outside, because that was just as awesome.
From there, it was off to Arc de Triumph and the Champs Elysees, which was so huge in terms of a turn-around that it reminds me a little of Times Square. It's a huge staircase up into the top of the Arc, but before that, I got a few pictures of the structure as it is from the outside, but with the wind it was in the teens, and it felt it. It allowed for a few pictures, but not before getting into the safety from the winds inside the Arch.
But it crazy to think that such a big and famous arch is still just in the middle of a big car loop. It's just a part of everyday life. It's one of the beautiful things about Europe, and I better understand the culture now like I never did before I came: they talk about their history and its importance so much since its so integrated into their daily lives, not just in museums and galleries and roped-off areas of no visitors. It's just on the way to work, or in between you and your destination, but not THE destination, if that makes any sense.
Getting the ticket to go up to the top, I spindled around the Statue-of-Liberty-esque stairway to the top, some hundreds of stairs up and making the ground look pretty far away. Never bothers me, heights don't do that, but I could tell for some people (hmmmm, mom?) it might have been a little more unnerving.
But the view from the top?
Totally worth it.
I have a ton of pictures that just need to be in this blog, so I am just going to let them do a little of the speaking for themselves. It's iconic stuff that I've talked about in this blog, while other monuments need no words.
Just a few more, with a video.
It's hard not to really take that in and just enjoy it. It's so iconic, it needs no words, and lord knows I've got words for days, so that's quite the accomplishment in a phote.
Now video? Whoa talk about immersion.
We walked down the Champs Elysees, and eventually Metroed our way over to the Notre Dame de Paris, or the focus of the Hunchback of Notre Dame, and the church dedicated to Mary in Paris. Notre Dame literally translates to "our lady," which most people miss. On a similar note, "Madonna" literally means "my lady" as in Mary. It all comes full circle a bit, which is always a fun game.
But yes: Notre Dame: fantastic, beautiful, and really, Gothic architecture at its finest. I don't know if I could pick between the Milanese Duomo or Notre Dame for my favorite Gothic Church, but know it'd be a close battle for that top spot since honestly, why should you pick? Since when you get down to it, they're both beautiful.
Pictures galore and not enough writing at this point can facilitate as many as I'd want to post, but know that what I have here is just a taste of everything I was able to take, and it'll eventually make its way to Picasa, I know it, you can count on it.
Inside was a feast of stained glass, slightly darker than Medieval style, but it lends nicely to the darker, more introspective and fear, even, which Gothic style models itself on.
Needless to say, at this point much walking had occured, and a break for food and resting up for Musee D'Orsay later on and more was needed, so a Croque Monsieur did the trick and off to the Musee it was. It started to rain at this point which I had somehow managed to avoid, and it was a little wet, but nothing a Portlander couldn't handle my any means, and the museum is inside, after all.
D'Orsay is inside an old train station, and it's got the more contemporary works that the Louvre lacks, specifically 19th century up until WWII. There were Picassos, Davids, Degas, etc, and I could go on for a while, but suffice to say it was really, really cool inside both structure wise and art wise, but we were rushed through a bit due to the nature of the museum closing a bit earlier, but no fear, I saw what I came for.
Which was what I could see in a few days.
I went home pretty early that night to get rested up, but not before one last stop: The Galleries Lafayette and Opera House along the way. Really, really, really huge Christmas displays mixed in with designer shopping like you couldn't believe, and I only wish Kirsten could have been here for that one, since it was like window shopping to the max, but with 1000 Euro items and up in some cases.
Oh well, in the future we'll head back, no doubt.
But the tree was huge and lit up, but also incredibly humid internal temperatures made the visit a little uncomfortable, but it was over before too long back into the cold for a nice night of getting to sleep and getting woke up by my hostel mates. But hey, what's a Euro Trip without a little of that?
A more relaxing one I suppose, but I digress.
One last picture here of the Opera House, which is really pretty awesome when it's all lit up, which it is at night. Who knew, in the city of lights?
But yes, after that came Sunday, which I really just got ready to bounce out of Paris, and I eventually (after a few delays and almost 24 hours of travel) made it to Spain, and now I am here in rainy but warmer Barcelona, taking it a bit easy before my flight home tomorrow. I feel really bad for Kirsten since she doesn't get in tonight until 11:30, meaning we probably won't get back here until midnight, and we have a wake-up call at 3:30 am. So, even with instant sleep, that's 3.5 hours of sleep before a trans-atlantic, over-the-east coast flight for her, but maybe it'll help her sleep on the plane, who knows?
What I do know, however, is that this European blog (barring some insane delays or unforseen unfortunate turn of events) is coming to a close. Before I wrote this, I went back and checked out some of my highlights for this 4 month, 17-week journey, which have included:
*Getting to Europe for the first time
*Getting settled in Rome for my 4 months there
*Going to Athens, Greece to see Kirsten and all the splendor of Ancient Greece
*Milan and the Jonas Brothers vs. Milanese Duomo
*Interlaken and the raw beauty of the Swiss Alps (and delicious chocolate)
*The changing seasons in Rome
*Egypt with the Tellams, which included camels, pyramids, and mosques
*Munich with Kirsten, drinking at the Hofbrauhaus and delicious pretzels and food
*Castel Gandolfo, Celano, Casamari, and Anagni with my great professors
*Istanbul with Kirsten, seeing the Hagia Sophia and shopping in the Grand Bazaar
*Meeting great friends, and saying goodbyes (for now) with tears in my eyes
*Paris and the splendor of the city of lights
And everyone, everything, and every moment in between. I kid you not, I have grown in so many ways, seen things I have dreamed my whole life of seeing, and can really, truly, and honestly say that I feel like an adult now, whereas when I left, I was unsure what I was. I have handled languages, stress, travel, budgets, friendships, traveling, sleep, and food in ways I never have before, and this experience has changed me for the better for the rest of my life.
The new experiences may have come to a close, but the stories, the pictures, the friends, and the memories I've made here will live on. I cannot say exactly how much this whole experience has changed me for the future, as who knows what the future holds, but I know that one day, when I look back on this time in my life, I'll be able to say that I truly lived my life, and set the pace for a life full of adventures, new experiences, and personal growth.
To all of you who have shared it with me through this blog, emails, stop-bys, and occasional skimmings: thank you. You are part of this too you know, and without you, I don't know if I would've spent the well over 100 hours combined time doing this anthology of experiences. After all, I've seen all these things through my own eyes, and I hope that at the very least once (hopefully several times), when reading this blog, you felt closer to me, felt what I was feeling, and wanted to set out on an adventure of your own. As if this journey has taught me anything, it's that with a good supporting cast of friends, family, and loved ones, the limits of what you can do with your life are set solely by you, and no one can take from me what I have seen and learned in these amazing four months.
Thank you so much to everyone, and if for a moment I could raise my metaphorical glass in cheers: here's to having a life and living it to the fullest.
So friends, I bid you adieu for now, and I'll be seeing you all again soon, I'm sure. And, for the last time in